It’s typical. I go away for a couple of weeks and someone opens a coffee shop in Guildford. I think every opening in the last three years has been while I’ve been away… The newcomer in this case is the Ceylon House of Coffee, an offshoot of the London House of Coffee, which, ironically, is in Colombo, Sri Lanka (Ceylon, as was). Meanwhile the Ceylon House of Coffee is in Guildford, occupying the old American Express building at the bottom of the High Street, a lovely, spacious spot with floor-to-ceiling windows, and plenty of well-separated tables and sofas.
What makes the Ceylon House of Coffee stand out from the crowd is that it only serves coffee from Sri Lanka, with the owner, xxx, attempting to recreate something of Sri Lanka’s heyday as a coffee-producing nation in the mid-19th century. For now, there’s only a single-option on espresso, along with a selection of Sri Lankan tea, plus a wide range of cakes.
The shop, meanwhile, is operating on reduced opening hours while everyone finds their feet, with drinks being served in disposable cups, although the staff are happy to accept customers’ reusable cups, so don’t forget to bring yours along!
Bold Street Coffee, a legend of Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, was opened in 2010 by the equally legendary Sam Towil (who, incidentally, now lives in Llangollen, where he runs Sam’s Coffee). I visited in 2013, returning almost exactly seven years later to see how it was faring during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between, Bold Street Coffee has been through a lot, including having to leave its beloved Bold Street home in January 2018, only to return at the end of the year, bigger and better than ever.
Then came 2020 and COVID-19 which forced Bold Street Coffee to close, along with everyone else, in March. Bold Street Coffee partially reopened in May, offering an extremely popular weekend take-out service, before fully reopening in early July, following the relaxation of COVID-19 restrictions in England.
If you’re familiar with Bold Street Coffee of old, the new layout is very similar, only with a larger, open kitchen and more seating at the back. There are also three tables outside on the temporarily-pedestrianised Bold Street. The menus are slightly limited for the moment: there’s no second option on espresso, while filter is restricted to batch-brew, but hopefully things will be back to normal soon.
The last stop on my brief tour of Birmingham is Ngopi, which exclusively serves single-origin Indonesian coffee, all of which is roasted in the little roaster visible through the front window. Ngopi was my find of 2019, after the staff opened my eyes to the variety and sheer quality of Indonesian speciality coffee at that year’s Birmingham Coffee Festival.
Like the rest of the UK’s speciality coffee shops, Ngopi was forced to close by COVID-19, only reopening in July following the relaxation of restrictions in England. The obvious COVID-19 precautions are now in place (Perspex screens on the counter, reduced seating, etc) but otherwise, Ngopi is very much its old self. In particular, the coffee is just as good as I remember it, while there’s a menu of light Indonesian dishes and desserts which, had I not just come from lunch at Wayland’s Yard, would have been very tempting.
I first visited Root Coffee back in 2016, when it was a relative newcomer to Liverpool’s speciality coffee scene, having opened right at the end of 2015. By the time of my return at the start of September, checking out how the city’s speciality coffee shops were coping during the COVID-19 pandemic, Root was an old hand, looking (and feeling) very similar to how it had over four years earlier.
Blessed with a large, bright interior and a generous outdoor seating area on the (already) pedestrianised western end of Seel Street, Root Coffee was ready-made to offer a COVID-safe environment with minimum change. The outdoor seating was reopened as soon as the restrictions were eased on 4th July, with the indoor seating quickly following.
These days, Root is almost back to normal, with slightly reduced opening hours (10:00 -17:00) and with the kitchen closing at three o’clock. The coffee is a good as I remember it, with a cast of three roasters gracing the various hoppers, although batch-brew is off the menu for the moment.
I revisited Wayland’s Yard in Birmingham at the end of August, almost exactly two years after my first visit, seeking a late lunch one Tuesday afternoon. Looking reassuringly similar from the street, the only obvious differences were the lack of outside benches (there used to be one on either side of the door, underneath the windows) and the presence of the bold “we are open” sign on the door.
Inside, the changes are similarly subtle, with several of them pre-dating the COVID-19 pandemic, such as the additional seating on the left in front of the counter. Of course, there are the COVID-19 precautions themselves, mostly the clearly-marked one-way system on the floor, but otherwise, Wayland’s Yard is much as I remember it.
The coffee, from Herefordshire’s Method Roastery, is as good as ever, with a bespoke house-blend and single-origin on espresso, although for now, there’s just a solitary single-origin on pour-over through the V60 rather than the customary two. The brunch menu has similarly been cut down, but is just as innovative as before.
One of the legends of London’s speciality coffee scene, this is the original Kaffeine on Great Titchfield Street, in the heart of Fitzrovia. It reopened in June, initially just serving takeaway, and has been slowly expanding its offering ever since. First, the internal seating reopened, then, in mid-August, following traffic restrictions put in place by the council, the outside seating was expanded.
Wherever you sit, you’ll get the trademark Kaffeine hospitality and some exemplary service. You’re greeted at the door by a staff member who takes your order. If it’s to go, you’ll need to wait there until your coffee is brought to you. Alternatively, if you’re staying, once you’ve ordered, you’ll be shown to a table (or allowed to select one if sitting outside), thus ensuring separation between sit-in and takeaway customers.
As usual, Square Mile’s Red Brick is on espresso, joined by a single-origin guest, which can be had instead of the Red Brick, or there’s a tasting flight where you can try them both. There’s a selection of cold/iced coffee options, plus tea from the Rare Tea Company. Finally, if you’re hungry, Kaffeine has the usual cake and pastry options, plus small breakfast and lunch menus.
Faculty/Sixteen Kitchen has long been my go-to option when changing trains at Birmingham’s New Street Station. Located at the bottom of the Piccadilly Arcade, opposite the station’s New Street entrance, it’s a great breakfast/lunch option, courtesy of Sixteen Kitchen, although I’ve tended to call in the afternoon for coffee and cake at Faculty when changing trains, its proximity to the station making it perfect if you have a few minutes between trains.
Like many in the speciality coffee industry, Faculty has been feeling its way back, initially reopening for takeaway only, when it served from the door. Since then, it’s reopened its seating areas and is slowly expanding its opening hours as people return to the city centre. For now, the coffee offering has been reduced slightly, with just one option on espresso and another on pour-over. Similarly, Sixteen Kitchen is offering a cut-down menu, although you can always get cakes and a small selection of toasted sandwiches from Faculty.
The usual COVID-19 precautions are in place, including reduced seating to ensure social distancing, a queuing system at the door and Perspex screens on the counter. One non-COVID change is the appearance of a Modbar espresso system on the counter!
While the COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hit the speciality coffee industry hard, it has also provided unforeseen opportunities for some. Quarter Horse Coffee opened its café/roastery in Birmingham in early 2015, but in recent years, Nathan, the driving force behind Quarter Horse, has wanted to make some major modifications. However, the question was always how to justify the disruption caused by the required structural work, which would inevitably shut both roastery and café for several weeks. Then along came COVID-19, with its enforced shutdown, giving Nathan his opportunity…
Originally the roastery was behind an open counter on the left of the café. While this had the obvious advantage that customers could see the roaster in operation, the layout had some serious operational disadvantages. The resulting remodelling has seen the roastery remain in place, but enclosed in its own room, the café being reworked to provide more seating in a slightly reduced space, a clever trick if you ask me. And, of course, the excellent coffee is still there, along with an enhanced food offering.
Today’s Coffee Spot Update focuses on the café, which reopened on the last day in July, while the roastery has its own update, which will be along in due course.
Four Corners, tucked away on Lower Marsh behind Waterloo Station, is one of the stalwarts of London’s speciality coffee scene, opening in July 2013, with my first visit coming a month later. Like many others (Canopy Coffee and Party on Pavilion, for example), COVID-19 has forced Four Corners to convert itself from a bustling, lively, sit-in coffee shop to a takeout operation. The area has also seen a significant drop-off in foot traffic, so much so that Four Corners only reopened two weeks ago, although hopefully the part-pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh will help bring people back to the area. It’s certainly changed the character of the street for the better.
For now, Four Corners is only offering a takeaway service, which means disposable cups, although the staff happily accept customers’ reusable cups. The full coffee menu is available, with Ozone’s Empire Blend on espresso, along with pour-over via the V60 and Chemex. There’s also tea from T2, while Four Corners has a limited food menu. Best of all, if you want to sit outside once you’ve got your coffee, Four Corners has taken advantage of the pedestrianisation of Lower Marsh by putting some benches and two tables out front.
For a long time, Iris & June, on Howick Place, between Victoria and Westminster, was a lonely beacon of coffee excellence in the local area. Yes, there was the venerable Flat Cap Coffee stall, but if you wanted somewhere to sit down, for many years after it opened in early 2014, Iris & June was the only game in town. All that has changed in the last couple of years, but just because there are plenty of other options in the area these days, this doesn’t mean you should overlook Iris & June, which reopened in July after the COVID-19 closedown and is just as good as ever, which I discovered when I visited last week.
Like many coffee shops operating during the COVID-19 pandemic, Iris & June has had to make compromises, reducing its opening hours and stripping out some of the seating to maintain social distancing. However, when it comes to what matters, don’t be fooled: this is the same old Iris & June, with excellent Ozone coffee on espresso and filter, along with its innovative daily lunches. And, of course, the same high standards of service which makes Iris & June stand out from the crowd.